9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)

Just because every organization uses these management practices, does not make them effective:

  • To achieve management excellence, you need to avoid faulty management practices
  • Managing individual behavior is the answer but it requires an understanding of the basic behavior-based principles that drive good performance

Here are 13 of the most commonly used and misguided management practices and what to do instead.

#1 Employee Of the Month:

What’s wrong?

A program meant to motivate all employees to deliver superior performance can only have one monthly winner. The others are left with performances that go unrecognized — violating every known principle of effective positive reinforcement.

What to do instead!

Understand what you want to achieve as a result of this kind of program, and then establish an initiative based on criteria that recognizes all employees who deliver outstanding performance.

#2 Stretch goals

What’s wrong?

It is proven that people fail to reach stretch goals 90% of the time. The primary reason: stretch goals are typically set too high.

What to do instead!

Set many, mini-goals. To get the kind of improvement an organization needs, in both people and production, managers need to ensure that positive reinforcement is delivered for the many small achievements along the way to reaching the larger, desired goal.

#3 Performance appraisals

What’s wrong?

Any system that doesn’t recognize performance as it’s happening misses the opportunity to get the most and best from employees.

What to do instead!

Set up an environment in which each employee knows how well he or she has done at the end of every working day. Evaluate each performer against what he or she is expected to do, not in relation to others.

#4 Ranking

What’s wrong?

Your competition is outside your organization, not inside. Publicly displaying how employees rank based on objective measures breeds unhealthy competition and inhibits sharing and teamwork.

What to do instead!

Evaluate individuals and units in terms of what they need to accomplish, rather than comparing their performance to others’. When the conditions are right, people will not only achieve at high rates but also assist others in doing the same.

#5 “you did a good job, but…”

What’s wrong?

It has become commonplace to provide positive and constructive feedback. While it seems efficient to do both at once, the positive statement rarely has the intended effect and employees end up focusing only on the negative.

What to do instead!

Be clear to separate the good and the bad. Give the good first, and at a later time deliver the corrective feedback. That way the good will be valued, and the employee will be more responsive to the corrective feedback.

#6 the sandwich

What goes wrong?

The sandwich practice is a cousin of the “you did a good job, but…” And creates a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” environment where attempts at social reinforcement are received with suspicion.

What to do instead!

Be direct. If behavior needs correcting, pinpoint the behavior to be stopped: tell the person the consequences of continuing the Undesirable behavior. Then discuss the behavior you want to see in its place and positively reinforce all instances of the new behavior.

#7 overvaluing smart, talented people

What’s wrong!

Smart, talented people are not in short supply. Thinking that some employees are smarter than others is harmful to all.

What to do instead!

Most of what we call talent is nothing more than unrecognized practice. Given the right environment, most people can become “smart and talented.” Create a culture where managers are rewarded for the number of “smart, talented people” they produce — not hire.

 #8 promoting people no one likes

What’s wrong?

There is a perception in leadership that managers who are well- liked are not effective at producing results. There is a correlation between ineffective managers and other operational costs: high turnover, grievances, absenteeism, training, and recruitment.

What to do instead!

Look for managers and leaders who get results the right way: those who understand behavior from a scientific perspective and can design systems, policies, and procedures that bring out the best in people every day. These folks are always well-liked.

#9 all forms of reorganizing

What’s wrong?

Financial considerations almost always trump human ones in any form of reorganization. None will be successful without the energetic, enthusiastic behavior of all employees. Yet plans for creating such behavior are usually a mere afterthought.

What to do instead!

Make decisions quickly. Incorporate the best practices of both organizations into the work of the new organization. Integrate policies, management practices, and mangers. Make sure that all managers know how to build positive reinforcement into all of the work of the new organization on the first day so that employees will see that it is and can trust that all will be okay.

The High Cost of Poor Leadership

I often use the phrase “poor leadership costs a lot of money and is a terrible waste of human potential.”

I was recently asked by one of my clients to prove it.

So, I put together some statistics on the cost of bad leadership and the upside of excellent leadership.

My Client needed this information so that he could help support making the investment in hiring me to do a leadership training workshop for his organization.

Most people understand that subpar leaders/managers have a negative impact on the organization. However, when you look at how big the cost of poor leadership really is, then you begin to re-examine the importance of leadership development within the company.

In order to review the high cost of poor leadership, I am sharing the information I sent to my client:

Poor leadership practices cost companies millions of dollars each year by negatively impacting employee retention, customer satisfaction, and overall employee productivity.

 Evidence of the High Cost of Poor Leadership

 According to research from the Blanchard Company:

  • Less-than-optimal leadership practices cost the typical organization an amount equal to as much as 7% of their total annual sales.
  • At least 9% and possibly as much as 32% of an organization’s staff turnover can be avoided through better leadership skills.
  • Better leadership can generate a 3-4% improvement in customer satisfaction scores and a corresponding 1.5% increase in revenue growth.
  • Most organizations are operating with a 5-10% productivity drag that better leadership practices could eliminate.

According to Gallup:

  • It’s a sad truth about the workplace: just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.
  • Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report indicates that 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service.
  • Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year.
  • The single greatest cause for employee disengagement? Poor leadership.

According to Harvard:

  • Quite simply, the better the leader, the more engaged the staff. Take the results from a recent study on the effectiveness of 2,865 leaders in a large financial services company.

There was a straight-line correlation here between levels of employee engagement and our measure of the overall effectiveness of their supervisors.

The best leaders (those in the 90th percentile) were supervising the happiest, most engaged, and most committed employees — those happier than more than 92% of their colleagues.

Get your free E-Book to learn more and get tips on fixing this drag on your bottom line.  

Want to fight back against the culture of contempt? Here are 3 actions to get you started:

Arthur Brooks is one of my favourite thinkers and writers.

Though we have never met, I would love the opportunity to sit, enjoy a meal and a fine scotch with him, just for the sheer joy of the conversation. 

Brooks believes that America is being torn apart, but the problem isn’t one of incivility, intolerance, or even anger.

He says the problem is contempt.

Defines as the conviction that those who disagree with us are not just wrong, but worthless.

Arthur Brooks explains why contempt is so destructive and offers three rules to follow to overcome contempt with warm-heartedness in our own lives.

Read about being kind as a boss

He offers practical suggestions for how to fight back against the culture of contempt.

Here are three to get you started:

1. Practice the 5 to 1 rule. Offer five positive and encouraging comments for every one criticism, especially on social media. You’ll be amazed at how changing this one aspect of your interactions with others improves public discourse.

2. Stand up for people who aren’t in the room. It’s easier than ever to bash the people who disagree with us, but it only foments contempt. If your friends who agree with you start mocking people who disagree with you, don’t be a jerk, but stand up for those not represented.

3. Ask yourself who in your life you’ve treated with contempt, and make amends. Contempt creates a vicious cycle, but by acknowledging how you have hurt others with mockery or dismissiveness, you’ll be able to repair relationships.

Brook’s details all of this and more in a short, animated video about why contempt is so destructive and what we can do to fight back against it today. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/8dv1ORTvm8w

What about you?

Where can you demonstrate warm-heartedness in our own life?

Should A Servant Leader Ever Fire Someone? Yes! – And Here’s How & Why

While teaching leadership at Mount Royal University, my class had a great discussion about Servant Leadership and discipline.

Read about the myths of servant leadership

We explored one student’s situation: She has an employee who was good at her job but had a toxic and nasty attitude towards her employer, her co-workers and her work.

Sometimes, angry and negative people appear to do a good job, always at work, always on time. They are careful not to be too critical when supervisors or managers are around but are quick to spread rumours and try to supersede management at their discretion.

As we talked, I suggested that the employee was good at her tasks; but terrible at her job.

Leaders who struggle with effectiveness misconstrue servant leadership as never having to enforce a standard or discipline an employee. 

Servant Leaders maintain standards and team norms to maintain high employee engagement and, in turn, does not allow mediocrity. 

By allowing this miserable person to carry on without consequences creates mediocracy throughout your team.


Can You Fire a Poisonous Employee? 

The short answer is yes.

But this is a time to get help.

You needed to get your boss and HR team involved. There are legal, labour-relations and possible human rights risks to the whole organization by mishandling firing someone. So be careful.

More importantly, the ‘problem’ employee needs to be treated fairly and with respect.

There is a possibility they have never been called out on their behaviour. Maybe, just maybe, with the right coaching, mentoring and good performance management you can help turn this person around.

To be honest, the odds of rescuing the employee are poor, but they may deserve the opportunity to improve their performance.


Step One: What to Say When Sitting Down for a First Meeting

While you may have counselled the employee in passing (“Hey, I noticed you were very negative at that meeting”), this is the time for pointed and directed information.

It is possible that they don’t realize just how negatively they are coming across to co-workers, so ask questions and find out what they are thinking.

Some approaches work better than others, but using the model of Facts, Feelings and Future is useful when having awkward conversations.

Read about the 4 F’s

Try this script:

“I’ve noticed you are unhappy and speak quite negatively about your job and the other people who work here. For instance, I’ve noticed that while you’re always polite face to face, you’ll say negative things behind people’s backs.”

 “Part of your job is building good relationships with co-workers, and your behaviour undermines this. What can I do to help you in this area?

The question at the end will allow your employee to speak up and share their grievances, which, most likely they will have. Here’s the thing: Be compassionate.

 But at the end of all the sympathy and compassionate communication, you need to come to this: “Regardless, the behaviour is inappropriate in this office. We value your work, and we don’t want to lose you, but if you cannot pull this together, we will terminate your employment.”

Document the time, date, and content of the discussion. At this stage, you can present them with an official performance improvement plan document that details what is expected.


Step Two: Implement a Performance Management Plan with the Employee

You want to implement a Performance Management Plan that stresses progressive discipline.

Read about performance agreements and charters

This is where you follow a series of steps, with the idea that if the employee either improves or is terminated.


Step Three: Follow up

You should never expect instant perfection from an employee in the performance improvement process. After all, it takes an effort to change, and it took a long time to get here.

This is precisely the time when you must become a micro-manager. If you notice poor behaviour, correct it at the moment.

Read why micromanagement is a good thing

Regardless schedule a formal meeting every two-weeks during the performance management plan, if they are making significant progress, congratulate them. If they are not making progress, this is where the “progressive” part of progressive discipline kicks in.

Present them with a written warning. This should include details of the problems they need to resolve as well as the information that if their behaviour does not improve, your organization will suspend them and then terminate their employment.

Explain that this warning is being placed in their employee file. Ask them to sign to indicate that they have received this warning. They may object, saying that they disagree with what is written. You can explain that their signature doesn’t mean agreement, but rather that they received it.


Step Three: Termination

If the behaviour does not improve, it’s time to let your negative employee go.

You might be tempted to keep them on, understand that if you do not act, you will have no power over this employee ever again. They will know that they can do whatever they want to, and you won’t do much.

You may also have to provide some amount of severance – Get legal or HR advice. It is galling to pay a  problem employee on their way out the door. But remember the organization failed the person by misfiring or not managing them properly, and a small severance may show good-faith if the employee decides to take legal action.


Final Thoughts

If you say, “But I can’t afford to lose them,” think again.

Negative employees who gossip are damaging to your whole department. Your other employees are more likely to quit and are not as engaged as they would be if they were in a functional department.

The Servant Leader owes it to all employees to take care of this poisonous employee, which means firing them if they either refuse to or are unable or unwiling to change.

5 Leadership Actions That Will Drive A 7% Increase in Profit – And Who Doesn’t Want More Profit

Poor managerial behaviours negatively impact engagement, alignment, productivity, and retention.

Research has identified some important gaps between what people expect and what they experience when having work conversations with their immediate manager.

Poor managers cost your company money when:

  1. They don’t set clear goals with their people.
  2. They don’t align goals to the team, departmental, and organizational objectives.
  3. They don’t check in on progress.
  4. They don’t provide feedback.
  5. They don’t adjust their style based on the needs of the employee.
  6. They don’t listen.
  7. They don’t change (without training and support).


  1. They don’t set clear goals with their people.

About 70 percent of people want to have goal-setting conversations often or all the time, but only 36 percent do. When managers aren’t skilled in setting goals that are specific, trackable, relevant, attainable, and motivating, the result is multiple priorities, unclear action steps, and poor line of sight on how work contributes to larger objectives.

“All good performance begins with a laser-like focus on goals,” so Identify 3 to 5 key goals for each employee and make sure they are written down. Goals that are written down are 18 percent more likely to be achieved. Writing down the goal also makes it easier to review.

  1. They don’t align goals to the team, departmental, and organizational objectives.

Only 14 percent of organizations report that their employees have a good understanding of their company’s strategy and direction.

When people don’t know where their company is going, they can end up working on projects that are out of step with organizational objectives.

Make sure all team members are working on the highest-priority tasks. Ask managers to check in and review priorities with their people. Make sure the work is meaningful, on target, and contributing to overall organizational goals.

  1. They don’t check in on progress.

More than 73 percent of people want to have goal-review conversations often or all the time, but only 47 percent do. And 26 percent say they rarely or never discuss current goals and tasks.

What gets measured, gets managed.

Research conducted at Dominican University in California found that people who write down their goals, share them with someone else, and have regular weekly check-ins are 30 percent more likely to achieve those goals than people who do not.

  1. They don’t provide feedback.

Research shows that 67 percent of people want to have performance-feedback conversations often or all the time, but only 29 percent do. And 36 percent say they rarely or never receive performance feedback.

Without feedback, people don’t have a way to make course corrections or to know how they are doing until it’s late in the process. No one feels good when work has to be redone because of a lack of feedback along the way.

A few key attributes of good feedback are:

– Focus on observable behaviours, not personality traits. Feedback should be clear and directive and should focus on concrete actions.

– Keep a positive end goal in mind. Paint a positive picture of the desired outcome that gives people a vision to work toward.

– Offer to be an accountability partner. Change is hard. Offer to provide appropriate direction and support as needed.

  1. They don’t adjust their style based on the needs of the employee.

Nearly 54 percent of managers use the same style of leadership for all people in all situations regardless of whether a direct report is new to a task or already an expert. Half the time, this results in a manager either over supervising or under supervising.

The best managers tailor their management style to the needs of their employees. For example, if an employee is new to a task, a successful manager will use a highly directive style with clearly set goals and deadlines. If an employee is struggling with a task, the manager will use equal measures of direction and support. If the employee is an expert at a task, a manager will use a delegating style on the current assignment and focus instead on coming up with new challenges and future growth projects.

  1. They don’t listen.

When I ask clients and audience members the question “What is the biggest mistake leaders make when working with others?” 41 percent of the respondents identified inappropriate communication or poor listening.

Here’s a three-step model designed to help managers slow down and focus on what people are sharing.

– Explore—ask open-ended questions such as, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “How do you think that will go?” or “What does that mean?”

– Acknowledge—respond with comments such as, “You must be feeling …” or “So, if I hear you correctly, what you’re saying is ….”

– Respond—now that you have a good understanding of the direct report’s point of view, you can carefully move forward with a possible response.

  1. They don’t change (without training and support).

A majority of new managers—60 percent—underperform or fail in their first assignments. Worse yet, as Harvard researcher Linda Hill has found, managerial habits developed by new managers often continue to hobble them for the rest of their careers.

With two million people stepping into their first managerial position each year, it’s critical to get people the training they need.

Unfortunately, research shows that most managers don’t receive formal training until they are ten years into their career!

I would suggest you rethink the traditional approach to who gets trained in the organization.

My suggestions?

  1. Don’t hold your best people back—in fact, don’t hold anyone back. Why not train everybody who desires it?
  2. Show everyone you value them and are willing to invest in their development.
  3. Adopt inclusive policies that identify and provide people with the training they need to build leadership bench strength, bring out the best in people, and create a strong work culture.

Better leadership practices have been positively associated with increased levels of engagement, alignment, productivity, and performance.

Research has identified that better leadership practices—if fully employed—could be worth as much as a 7 percent increase in profits!

For leadership development professionals, these seven areas provide an opportunity to take a more targeted approach to improve manager performance in each area.

Here are five ways to get started.

  1. Take a look at the overall design of your performance management process.

Conduct a quick internal assessment. Are managers following best practices in setting goals that are specific, motivating, attainable, relevant, and trackable? What percentage of employees have current goals written down?

Individuals and organizations achieve more when goals are identified, written down, and reviewed on a consistent basis.

Read more about performance mangement

  1. Double-check on goal alignment at the team and department level.

Make sure that all team members are working on highest-priority tasks. Ask managers to check in and review priorities with their people.

Make sure the work is meaningful, on target, and contributing to overall organizational goals. Efficiency improves when everyone is clear on goals and moving in the same direction.

Read more about goal alignment

  1. Take a second look at the amount of time your managers are spending with their people.

Everyone benefits from regular coaching and performance review.

Monitoring progress and providing feedback are two key ways for a manager to stay involved and partner with an employee to achieve goals. I suggest leaders meet with their direct reports at least twice a month to discuss progress toward goals and to address employee needs for direction and support.

Read more about time management

  1. Identify what individuals need to succeed in their high-priority tasks.

Managers need to adjust their leadership style to meet the needs of each person, depending on that person’s experience and confidence with the tasks they are assigned.

With proper levels of direction and support, people can move through stages of development and reach peak performance faster.

Surprisingly, without training only 1 percent of managers are skilled at identifying and being able to deliver all four styles when needed, whether directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating.

  1. Review your performance review process.

In many organizations, goals are set at the beginning of the year and not seen again until the review process at the end of the year.

I recommend that managers conduct a series of mini-reviews throughout the year—every 90 days is the recommended standard. This allows leaders to make midcourse corrections. It also eliminates surprises for direct reports and keeps the partnership between manager and direct report strong and vibrant.

 Read more about goals

Final Thoughts

A renewed focus on leadership development can have significant results on the performance of an organization. Research shows that when managers meet the needs of their people, organizations benefit through higher levels of discretionary effort, work performance, and intention to remain and collaborate more effectively.

How are the managers in your organization impacting your bottom line?

Give your leadership development process a review.

Great managers aren’t born—they’re trained.

Get started today by emailing me at  Steve@StevenArmstrong.ca or call me at + 1 403 701 3752

6 Things You Can Do To Show You Care For Your Employees

Recently I was interviewed for a leadership podcast, and the question that caused me to reflect on a lifetime of leading was: How do you show you care for your employees?

I landed on 6 key actions:

One, the easiest and most important is to connect them to the organization and the mission and the objectives of the organization in a very simple, articulate way.

How: Explain in respectful and appropriate language how each person’s work contributes to the success of the entire team

read more about the Mission

Two, show a high level of trust and confidence in them and in return you will get that back.

How: Explain what’s happening. I think most leaders, not because of ill-will don’t want to worry anybody, so they’re not going to tell the full truth about what’s happening around them.

And one of my consultancy clients were laying off people, because of economic reasons, there wasn’t enough work. But they stopped telling people what was happening and why people the project ended and there was no work.

People saw that the people in charge had stopped communicating and their coworkers just disappear. They began to assume that the company was in big trouble. The company was financially solid, still making a profit, had good sales and lots of potential work in the pipeline.

I coached the president to hold town halls and open the books as much as possible that was happening to give people confidence that the company was solid.

read more about talking to you people in tough times

Three, get off your butt, get out of your office and go see how people are working and ask them what’s going on in their lives, and in their workplace and show a little empathy.

How: Find out what’s going on, fix the little problems, be empathetic with people and that’s as equally simple and as complex as that.

During one of my walk arounds, I learned that a young lady working for me had a chance for a scholarship to go to nurses’ school. She couldn’t afford to travel, so the company paid for a hotel in Vancouver attend the application interview.

I didn’t have to do that, but trust me, that the word got spread that I helped her with this and, suddenly, people thought “If they’re going to do that for her, they’ll help me out,” and morale loyalty and trust goes up.

Four, deal with poor performance. Nothing will demoralize you people quicker than seeing a coworker get away with poor performance.

How: Pull your big boy or girl pants up and deal with poor performance.

No one comes to work wanting to do a bad job, create the desired expectations, provide the resources required for that person to improve, and monitor, mentor and support the behaviours you expect.

You are the Boss and eventually you will have to bring people up to the standard of performance or move them, respectfully, out of the organization.

Learn more about performance agreements

Fifth, have a little class and dignity.

How: People are not stupid or unrealistic, they understand that when times get tough layoffs may have to happen. But that is not license to treat people like so much trash being kicked to the curb.

Even if you have to fire somebody make sure that everyone sees that person being treated fairly and with respect.  That translates onto the shop floor or the rest of the office or the rest of the team, or they go “You know what, they treated that guy okay, so maybe they will look after me.

Finally, do the things no one would miss if you didn’t do it.

How: When I learned that someone on my team had a death in their family, I always send flowers from the organization and the team.

The cost? $30

… $30 for a little bit of caring.

It is those low cost yet important little things that become exponentially important to that person and the rest of your team.